This contretemps may not last long. The combination of Kelly’s appointment as chief of staff and the increasing urgency of the North Korean nuclear program are cementing the generals’ authority. That was plainly on display in late July, when Kelly insisted that Anthony Scaramucci, the newly appointed communications director, be fired after an obscenity- laden rant to a reporter. “Kelly viewed him as someone who was unqualified for the job and who had embarrassed the president and the presidency,” says a White House source. His message to Trump was straightforward: “Look, this is the kind of stuff that has to end. I’m going to run things my way, or I’m not taking the job.” Trump agreed, and the “Mooch,’’ his erstwhile New York City buddy, was escorted from the White House.
Kelly also told the president that McMaster and Mattis had to be allowed to make their own hiring and firing decisions. The next day, McMaster was finally able to get rid of four staffers loyal to Bannon who had previously been protected by Trump. Among them: the senior director of intelligence at the NSC, 31-year-old Ezra Cohen-Watnick, whom colleagues at the other intelligence agencies viewed with barely concealed contempt, in part due to his inexperience. “The day John Kelly became chief of staff,” says one official, “was not a good day for Steve Bannon and was absolutely a good day for General McMaster.”